Johnson County schools won extra security against Kansas’ precarious financial times as voters overwhelmingly supported five districts’ increased local-option budgets.
With majorities in most cases exceeding 80 percent, voters allowed the districts to maintain or increase the local funding they collect to bolster their basic state aid.
In one of those districts — Shawnee Mission — 80.5 percent of voters approved a $223 million bond issue in the mail-ballot election that ended at noon Tuesday.
The county mailed more than 332,000 ballots to voters in the five Johnson County districts seeking higher local-option budgets and more than 98,000 ballots, or 30 percent, were ultimately turned in during the three-week process.
Four districts — Blue Valley, De Soto, Olathe and Shawnee Mission — had already raised their local-option budget to 33 percent of their state financial aid as allowed by state law a year ago. Those districts had to win voter approval Tuesday to maintain that level.
Gardner-Edgerton, which had not previously raised its local-option budget, was asking voters to raise its local-funded rate from 30 percent to 33 percent of its state financial aid.
Spring Hill was the only one of the six Johnson County school districts not seeking to maintain or initiate a raise in its local-option budget.
Superintendents and school boards urged support for extra local support, noting that much of what lies ahead for education funding in Kansas is unknown.
“There are some elements in our society attacking public education,” Shawnee Mission Superintendent Jim Hinson said. “But the voters in our district sent a significant signal to us that they support what’s going on.”
The state is wrangling with a $648 million budget shortfall for the coming fiscal year as it has cut income and business tax rates in hopes of drawing more private-sector jobs.
The districts are wary of potential cuts or withholding of funds.
“Hopefully this helps everyone in Topeka see just how supportive Johnson County — and Blue Valley — patrons are,” said Blue Valley Superintendent Tom Trigg.
Voters demonstrated “not only that they value public education, but that they value local control.”
Two measures passed easily in Shawnee Mission, where they were deciding both the local tax rate and the district’s first bond issue election since 2004.
The tax rate prevailed with 83 percent voting yes, and the bond issue won with 80.6 percent. The turnout was 30.5 percent.
Shawnee Mission has never lost a bond issue election.
The district was seeking the $223 million issue — which will extend bonds but not increase tax bills — for several capital improvements.
They include plans to build five new elementary schools, modernize cafeterias, improve gymnasiums, expand early childhood facilities, improve security, build a district aquatic center and build a new, consolidated, administration center.
The district’s increased local-option budget brings in an additional $3.6 million a year and was used in large part to raise the teacher pay schedule for the first time in five years.
Because the increase was matched with a drop in the district’s mill levy, the tax rate did not rise.
Olathe’s local-option increase will continue after 79.2 percent of the voters mailing in ballots approved the higher rate. Of the potential voters in Olathe, 26.7 percent cast ballots.
Olathe is gaining about $4 million a year with its increased local-option budget to put into its classroom budgets. With a drop in its mill levy, Olathe expects no tax increase.
“We are very pleased with the outcome of the election,” Superintendent Marlin Berry said. “Our community has always been supportive of our schools and district and for that I am thankful.”
Blue Valley voters by an 80.2 percent majority approved maintaining their district’s local-option budget. Voter turnout was 30.7.
The district gained about $3 million with its increased local budget, also without boosting property taxes. Much of the revenue went to raising most teacher’s salary schedules by 2 percent.
De Soto’s increased local-option budget was approved, as 80.9 percent of its voters said yes. Thirty-four percent of the district’s ballots were mailed in.
The higher local budget means about $1.1 million a year for De Soto, which credited the funds as part of the reason it was able to reduce its property tax rate by 8 mills this year.
Gardner-Edgerton joined its Johnson County neighbors in setting its local-option budget at 33 percent, winning 60.1 percent of the vote. Its overall turnout was 27 percent.
The district stands to gain about $1 million annually with the increased local taxing authority, without any expected rise in its overall property tax rate.
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Olathe: 79 percent
Shawnee Mission: 83 percent; 80.6 percent for bond issue
Blue Valley: 80 percent
De Soto: 81 percent
Gardner-Edgerton: 60 percent